Saturday, 22 September 2007

Finally Catching Gus Mills at the Felid Conservation Conference in Oxford

For those of you who do not know who Gus Mills is, here is a short introduction. Mills was working at the Kruger National Park when he issued the below press release on behalf of five organizations:

He is now a freelance consultant. Before and after the above press release, various mutual friends tried to arrange a meeting between me and him, and I personally wrote to him and phoned him to invite dialogues. I never succeeded in meeting him. When he was confronted by an ex-colleague, asking why he could say that our project in SA was “against the Biodiversity Bill”, knowing very well that we restored 33000 hectares of overgrazed land and turned 17 defunct sheep farms into a wildlife reserve, thus gaining biodiversity for South Africa, he replied that he put it in “for effect” -such was his blatant disregard for the intelligence of the public! Such was his professional integrity but I was still very shocked when he tried to get the membership of one of our strong supporters in a conservation organization cancelled.

I came back from Beijing just to be able to go to this Felid Conference to say Hi to a few supporter biologists. I went there with my husband Stuart in the afternoon of Oct 21. I did not expect to see Gus Mills but his face is such a familiar one from the TV appearances he made in opposing our project that I could not but calling out his name-. It was a fateful encounter!

I have long wanted to ask him that same question.

Me: “Why did you say that our project damaged South African Biodiversity? You know we restored 33000 hectares of land from sheep farms to wildlife reserve!”.

Mills: “The tiger is exotic and free ranging”.

Me: “You know well the tigers are in camps-fenced off, not much more different from other animals in South Africa. The National Zoo of SA has David’s Deer on their land for example. Are you saying all exotic animals in South Africa should be taken out?”

Mills: “I am not saying that is right too. You will have my approval if you have African games”.

Me: “You know we do -we have reintroduced many African antelopes. We would not have bought the land if it weren’t for rewilding the South China Tigers. Our project has contributed to South African Biodiversity. Are you saying Cattle farms have more biodiversity than a restored wildlife reserve?”

Mills: “If managed right cattle farms have more biodiversity”>

I am quite appalled by what he just said!

Me: “Can I quote you on that? You do know the farmers have taken out everything they could-cheetahs, leopards etc. What kind of biodiversity is sheep farm?”

Mills: “You can’t quote me on that”..

Me: “Further, because of what we did, more people have now bought land in our neighbourhood for wildlife. One has turned sheep farm into game breeding and another has turned sheep farm into game hunting.”.

Mills: “That is not conservation. Further what significance does it have? It is nought nought percent of National Parks. Insignificent!”

This, coming out of the lips of a conservationist, is unforgivable- Gus Mills is now anti-conservation.

Me: “So you are essentially saying you prefer cattle farms to wildlife land. I will quote you on that”.

Mills: “There is no point for us to continue this conversation,. It will not yield any results.” Mills pushed through the crowd and left us.

He must be secretly regreting demeaning private game conservation areas because privately owned games reserves account for a large percentage of wildlife reserves in South Africa, many of them restored from cattle farming - such as Shamwari, Tswalu, to name a few, and they play a very significant conservation role. It is part of South Africa’s conservation legacy.

He must also be slapping his face for saying cattle farms have more biodiversity than restored wildlife reserve such as ours. We all know, sheep and cattle farmers have taken out all the big African predators on their farms and continue to take out other smaller wild animals such as jackals.

At least he is no longer with the National Parks of South Africa, so he wont be able to make discriminating policies against private initiatives in conservation.

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